Western Union admits to money laundering, fraud crimes

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Western Union, the global money transmitter, admitted to criminal violations Thursday after the firm looked the other way when some employees abetted consumer fraud and money laundering on a widespread basis.

The Englewood, Colo., firm will forfeit $586 million, and implement what authorities described as a comprehensive anti-fraud program, as part of the deal it struck with the federal government.

Western Union entered into a so-called deferred prosecution agreement, under which the criminal charges are expected to be dismissed if the company fulfills various obligations.

Officials from the FBI, the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission portrayed Western Union as a rogue firm that disregarded its responsibilities under the Bank Secrecy Act. They described a flow of money through Western Union to pay for human smuggling and said that the firm was favored by crooks and con artists.

“Rather than ensuring that their high-volume agents were operating above-board, Western Union rewarded them without regard to the blatant lack of compliance and illegal practices taking place,” Deirdre Fike, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles field office, said in a press release.

“The settlement should go a long way in thwarting the proceeds of illicit transactions being sent to China to fund human smuggling or drug trafficking, as well as to interrupt the ease with which scam artists flout U.S. banking regulations in schemes devised to defraud vulnerable Americans.”

Between 2004 and 2015, Western Union received more than 250,000 consumer complaints involving bogus online purchases, fraudulent lotteries and “Wire money to get me out of jail!” scams, according to the FTC.

The agency said that “a small number” of the company’s 515,000 agents accounted for the vast majority of consumer complaints. The company allegedly failed to investigate, suspend or terminate complicit agents.

In a statement, Western Union said: “We share the government’s goal of protecting consumers and the integrity of our global money transfer network, and we worked hard to resolve these matters with the government.”

“We are committed to enhancing our compliance programs to prevent illicit activity on our network and protect customers who transfer money to friends, family and businesses,” the company added.

Authorities said that the money Western Union is forfeiting will be returned to people who were victimized.

Shares in Western Union were down 3.5% to $21.09 in late trading Thursday.

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